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September 22, 2010

Red Zone Defense Continues to Answer Bell

Of course it can improve. Such is the penalty for living in a society where nothing is ever good enough.

But South Carolina's red-zone defense, through its first three games, has denied touchdown after touchdown while scoring plenty of its own.

"We've been very good at forcing field goals and obviously, that was a big key for us (against Furman) and a big key for us against Georgia," coach Steve Spurrier said. "Georgia had to kick two field goals down there."

The Paladins had the most success against the Gamecocks all year, touchdown-wise, yet still lost by 19 points. Yet, they still didn't score in the red zone, keeping USC's record at giving up TDs on red-zone possessions a spotless 11-0.

To recap, the Gamecocks have given up three sixes all year. All come with asterisks.

Southern Miss' DeAndre Brown catches a 29-yard pass from Martevious Young. The only reason Brown was open was because Stephon Gilmore, who had blanketed him all night, had taken a seat with most of the rest of the first-string defense. Late in the fourth quarter after USC had already clinched the game, Ellis Johnson gave his starters some much-needed rest and USM turned the final score into 41-13 instead of 41-6.

Furman's Shawn Boone intercepts a screen pass at the 3-yard-line and rumbles into the end zone. Hard to blame the defense when it never got a chance to get on the field. Stephen Garcia was apparently supposed to look right and throw left, after Jarriel King cut-blocked his man, to an open Bryce Sherman. Garcia said King missed the block and when he turned, he let the ball go before he saw Boone charging. Credit to Boone for tipping the pass, staying with it and holding on as his feet kept moving.

Furman's Tersoo Uhaa takes an option pitch, winds up and throws a 72-yard pass to Adam Mims. The free safety bit on Uhaa running right and Mims was past in a flash. He got within a step but Mims was already at full speed. It turned it back into a game, but it didn't wear down the defense by staying on the field for a sustained drive.

The Gamecocks' pass defense has been knocked around in its first three games, giving up an SEC-worst 267.7 yards per game, but has rarely yielded the deep ball. Opponents have picked part the middle of the field and have moved almost at will through the Williams-Brice Stadium real estate, yet can't get across the one line they really need to get across.

"In total D we're doing a good job," defensive head Ellis Johnson said. "This year, we've been giving up too much passing yards and not turning the ball over enough. Run defense has been pretty good."

It is rather strange -- USC ranks 10th in the SEC in total defense, but fourth in scoring defense. Only Alabama has given up less touchdowns (one) than the Gamecocks.

"Our defense has tightened up and played good run and pass defense down there," Spurrier said. "Hopefully, we can keep the other teams kicking field goals. If you can do that, you have a chance to win a lot of games."

This week's opponent, No. 17 Auburn, has scored 12 touchdowns and kicked four field goals this year. Three TDs and two field goals occurred in last week's win over Clemson.

With dual threat quarterback Cam Newton running the offense, the Tigers can be dangerous. But USC is hoping that the trend can continue -- the numbers may not look great in the statistics or rankings, but as long as teams move from 1-yard-line to 1-yard-line and never get any further, the Gamecocks can live with it.

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